Applying for that alt-ac job

This article first appeared in Funding Insight on 25 July 2019 as ‘What we talk about when we talk about recruitment’. It is reproduced with the permission of Research Professional. For more articles like this, visit www.researchprofessional.com.


A cubicle corner, showing office stationery and a desk phone.
A corner of the office, by Lonnon Foster, on Flickr.

Recently, I started a new job. One of the first things on my to-do list was to employ someone to work with me. I thought that it might be useful to reflect on the recruitment process, particularly for academics who are looking for an alternative academic job (an ‘alt-ac job’ as some people call it)—an administrative job within a university environment.

Hiring, like everything, is cultural. Different countries do it differently. I’ve spent most of my working life as an administrator at Australian universities, helping academics with their research grants. All I can draw on is my own experience. Please keep in mind that this may not necessarily translate to your situation. Read more of this post

Ways to help

Photo by Clint Adair | unsplash.com

How do you help and support your precariat colleagues?

At Research Whisperer, we engage a lot with issues of precarity and casualisation. We think it’s a huge issue that needs urgent address in academia, and it’s a global problem.

We were recently invited to speak to casuals at an NTEU Victoria event where I talked about maintaining a consistent researcher profile while being part of the precariat, and Jonathan spoke on how to get research funding as a casual. We acknowledge from the start that while we focus on individual strategy and knowledge the issues of precarity are systemic and heavily embedded in our sector.

One of the things that I wanted to write about after the event was how those of us in more secure employment can help in this bleak landscape of increasing casualisation, and exclusionary and inequitable institutional dynamics.

Those who are in casual or fixed-term appointments are less likely and able to advocate within the academic system. Short (often multiple, simultaneous) contracts and insecurity mean that it is difficult to build momentum in fighting for equitable conditions and opportunities. That is why actions like joining a union (like the NTEU in Australia) can shift the action to an organisation that has more traction and resources in the system. The NTEU and the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations (CAPA) created the Uni Casual website to inform and agitate for change.

Just recently, universities in my state (Victoria, Australia) published data that shows the extent of casualisation in our universities – it’s quite shocking. These figures are for those on casual contracts, and doesn’t count those on short fixed-term contracts (who I would also consider part of the precariat workforce). Read more of this post

Where I stand: Rewriting the academic bio

This piece was first published on Tamson Pietsch’s blog, Cap and Gown (capandgown.wordpress.com) on 17 July 2019.

You can follow Tamson on Twitter at @cap_and_gown.


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about expertise and its history and the ways that academics like me deploy it to underpin our knowledge and authority claims.

This is my current bio, taken from my UTS website:

Screenshot 2019-07-17 at 18.14.11I send versions of this bio to conferences and academic journals and reproduce it in thousands of conversations. It follows a pretty defined formula, beginning with my name (often also given with pre-noms), my position in a hierarchy and my employing institution. It then proceeds to mobilise my publications in order to establish my authority and field of expertise, complete with the sanction of academic publishers and grant-making bodies. At the end come more references to credentialising institutions that stand as further markers of status and serve as evidence of my international formation and legibility. Read more of this post

Talking about salaries

Commonwealth Bank of Australia ten-shilling note, showing both sides of the note
Commonwealth Bank of Australia ten-shilling note, via Wikimedia.

At universities in Australia, we get used to knowing one another’s salaries (in rough terms). Every university uses the same basic salary structure, and has relatively comparable pay rates within that structure. So, if someone is a Professor or a Lecturer, you know roughly how much they earn.

This familiarity means that we often forget that this isn’t the case in all sectors. A friend who worked in the IT sector said that he worked for an organisation where it was a sackable offence to discuss your salary with a colleague. Everybody was on negotiated rates, and the last thing that management wanted was for workers to compare their pay rates, especially if they were doing the same work.

That isn’t really a problem until you want to include an industry partner in the budget of an application. Then these differences can be tricky to talk about. Read more of this post

Furnishing our corners of the internet

Photo by Brande Jackson | www.instagram.com/brandejackson

Photo by Brande Jackson | http://www.instagram.com/brandejackson

Things in my life have been a little heavy and stressful lately so I thought it would be good for my heart and soul to write a post focused on the fun and ridiculous elements of the academic internets and beyond.

Working on Research Whisperer through the years, I’ve been more aware of the ways in which the higher education research sector is broken and the bad behaviours and structures that propagate inequity and career crises. It can feel bleak.

I can’t fix these things alone, and it’s easy to get quite down about any number of these issues and their seemingly unchanging (or very-slow-to-change) nature.

For me, retaining perspective on what is meaningful and pleasurable in life can disperse anxieties and enable me to concentrate on things that make me happy and where I feel I can do effective work that’s valued. This post features a bunch of sites and comics that I regularly read. A good way for me to recalibrate my world-view is through engaging with satire and the absurd, by participating in both the consumption and production of such cultural texts.  Read more of this post

Build your authority and network with an Instagram Challenge

Melanie Bruce

Dr Melanie Bruce is a marketing professor, entrepreneur, and business coach. 

She is the founder of The Leveraged PhD, a hub for PhDs wanting to use their degree to its full potential. Melanie believes that as the world produces an increasing number of PhDs it is becoming increasingly important to develop a competitive advantage and stand out from the crowd. She has an online course to help PhDs develop their personal brand so that they can build a name for themselves that can lead to guest speaking, consulting, book sales, full-time employment, online course creation, coaching and/or freelancing. Follow TheLeveragedPhD on Instagram: @TheLeveragedPhD, Twitter: @TheLeveragedPhD and Facebook: @TheLeveragedPhD

Melanie is also a business and marketing coach for ecopreneurs. Using her marketing knowledge and experience she helps sustainably focused businesses launch and scale. 

Melanie’s personal website is melaniebruce.com.au and you can connect with her on Instagram: @DrMelanieBruce, Twitter: @DrMelanieBruce, and Facebook: @DrMelanieBruce  


What is an Instagram Challenge?

An Instagram Challenge is when a group of people commit to daily posts on Instagram for a specific period of time (usually 1 month). You receive a daily prompt to inspire you to create a post for your Instagram feed. The prompts are open to interpretation adding fun and diversity to the challenge. 

Why participate in an Instagram Challenge?

Poster with someone putting up their hand, that says "Challenge Accepted. Ready or not, here I come".
‘ Every fall in western mass comes the royal frog ballet’
by danjo paluska, on Flickr.

An Instagram Challenge is a creative way to build your presence and expand your network. You will also build the habit of posting daily which will increase your followers and engagement rates.

If you want to get started or increase your presence on Instagram but you aren’t sure what to post or what type of content is best, participating in an Instagram Challenge allows you to create a whole load of content and see what works and doesn’t for you. 

Participants in my last challenge stated that the number one benefit of participating in the challenge was the connections they built. Other common benefits were motivation and consistency. So, if you are wanting to build your network and/or your authority on Instagram then I recommend you participate in an Instagram Challenge. Read more of this post

Research funding for casuals

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) invited Tseen and I to speak to precariously employed (casual) academic members. This post is based on the talk that I am giving today. Thanks to the NTEU Victorian Division for hosting this event.


I can’t save you

It Gets Worse!

There are serious structural problems in universities worldwide. The number of permanently employed staff is shrinking. The number of precariously employed staff (casual, adjunct, paid by the hour) is increasing. I can’t change that. This situation isn’t getting any better. It gets worse.

  • Unionism (like the National Tertiary Education Union in Australia) provides an organised industry-wide approach to the problem. The union is your best bet for speaking truth to power, whether that be in representing you personally when you have an individual grievance, representing all members in discussions with the university, or talking directly to the government about sector-wide issues.
  • I can’t do that. My advice represents an individual approach to a specific part of the problem. This post talks about how you might secure research funding, which might help you to secure more permanent employment.
  • However, keep in mind that I write from a position of privilege. I’m permanently employed as an administrator at an Australian university. I’ve been doing this, on and off, for thirty years. So I don’t know your experience they way that you do. Keep that in mind as your read this post – your mileage may vary.

Read more of this post